Chapter 43: Love is a Unique Achievement

Hello, loves. It’s me, My Phare Lady. Remember me?

It’s been quite some time since I’ve felt like writing, and what’s more, since I’ve felt like I had anything of interest or value to share. Being locked into a pretty solid funk since September of 2018 hasn’t helped, either.

Let’s just say these past 12 months have felt particularly draining and heavy. The time has dragged so slowly it felt like I was attempting to run through molasses. Yet—strangely, somehow—days, weeks, and months passed in the blink of an eye. The monotony of my daily responsibilities squeezed me like a vice, the pressure leaving me with an absence of desire to do anything more than the bare minimum.

After facing an initial series of strikes and blows about this time last year, I chose to get still and quiet. I was trying to stay present, to really feel into the sensations of the beliefs and emotions that were locked inside the cells of my body and keeping me jailed in a prison of my own making. But as the feelings of shame and discomfort continued to swell until I was almost certain they would swallow me whole, I slipped back into some familiar patterns.

I neglected my own needs and set aside most of the self-care practices that had generally kept me functional and (reasonably) sane. I numbed out the uncomfortable feelings and immersed myself in frivolous distractions. And through it all I used the excuse of being too “busy” to do the things I claimed were most important to my heart—to my happiness and wellbeing.

Maybe that’s why I am so incredibly grateful for the return of September—because it’s always felt like my ‘new year’. Historically speaking, it has been a time of re(birth), renewal, and new beginnings. It’s a time to wipe the slate clean and start anew. Not to mention, the time has come to close this last chapter of my life so I can begin the next—one in which I am the author of my own story.

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My kids’ schools are located just a few blocks away from each other in a mature neighbourhood in the town where we live. One of the best things about this area, in my opinion, is that it features the grandest trees (60-80 feet tall, on average) with the most majestic foliage. The other day at school pick up time, I nearly stopped in the middle of the road as I was driving when I noticed how the leaves had suddenly turned to the most brilliant shades of rust, gold, and even deep purple. The result was a glorious canopy of fall colour that shimmered gently overhead in the autumn breeze. Not only was it a splendid sight to behold, but also it reminded me (again) how there is so much beauty all around, if only we choose to see it and be open to truly receive.

As if right on cue with the changing of the leaves and the season, my outlook has shifted quite dramatically. My energy is increasing, and the promise of hope and possibility are returning to me once again. I am moving my body more, and remembering each day how glorious it feels to be outside—to take in nature’s splendor with all my senses, and to appreciate every aspect of my life as I welcome each new breath of fresh air into my lungs. Dare I say it’s almost as if I’ve been wandering around in the dark, wondering if I would ever see the sun again, when I finally feel a little warmth at my back and a glimmer of light on my cheek.

Everything seems just a little bit ‘brighter’ at the moment. My disposition, just a bit sunnier. Although fall’s official arrival is just around the corner, I have some extra spring in my step these days. While I’m not able to pinpoint why, exactly, I don’t even think the “why” matters much. All I know is that I am excited to welcome with open arms this change in my life’s season.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent a lot of time—far too much, really—worrying about how I am perceived by others, preoccupied with being accepted, and concerned about whether people like me. My previous operating system was entirely based on the fear and limiting belief of not being enough, or perhaps even too much, for others. In this new season of my life; however, I am turning over a new leaf by renewing my focus on gratitude, bravery, and above all, self-love. This shift has me feeling both refreshed and liberated.

So instead of recalling all the ways I’ve failed in the past (and the ways in which I believe others have failed me), and rather than analyzing and attempting to control the inevitably uncontrollable future, I’m consciously and courageously choosing to return to presence and the practice of gratitude. Because it’s nearly impossible to separate one from the other, this process also has me coming back to the importance of embracing love over fear.

Over time and through the lens of my life’s experiences, I’ve really come to understand how fear is an extreme form of rejection, whereas love, on the other hand, is the ultimate form of acceptance. When I think of these qualities in those terms, it shifts my way of thinking to a whole new perspective with a different meaning.

Although it’s been difficult in many ways, this past year has taught me so much. Most important of all, it has shown me that, in order to achieve the inner peace and harmony I want, everything I do—every action and reaction—must originate from gentle, loving acceptance. This perspective also reminds me to view my life with loving kindness, to speak and act from love, to remain open to receiving the energy of love, and, most importantly, to love myself first so that I may be able to extend my love to others.

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It’s been an interesting year…

I haven’t been that visible in this online space, but rest assured I’m still here.

I am not making any excuses about where I’ve been, and I will not be making grand claims about what I plan to do in the future. (The beauty of being present is in taking one baby step at a time.)

This is just me sharing a glimpse of how I am evolving, while at the same time staying grounded in who I am; remembering what I stand for and why I am here.

This is me loving and accepting who I am in this moment, while not giving up on the person I want to become.

There is no doubt about it—this thing called life can be challenging at times. It’s both undeniable and totally ok. No one ever said it would be easy. And in case anyone out there needs a reminder, it’s alright to not be ok all of the time. (I keep seeing this message all over social media, but it bears repeating here, nonetheless.) You can surely count on the fact that life will knock you down, and also that you’ll need to pick yourself up off the floor, wipe off the dust and dirt, and be willing to try again the next day.

And I suppose that’s really what this post represents—me picking myself up off the floor for about the 8,376th time in my life. And after all I’ve seen, done, and been through in the past 43 years, all I really know to be true for sure is that:

  • Living in the energy of love feels infinitely better than constantly being motivated by fear.
  • Keeping your heart open to love through the difficult times ain’t easy, but it is worth it.
  • Loving and accepting myself exactly as I am, flaws and all, is the secret sauce to feeling whole.
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  • A willingness to continue to return to love through all of life’s triumphs and hardships, is, indeed, a unique achievement.

“If I asked you to name all the things you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?”

It’s taken me the better part of 43 years to figure it out, but now that I have, I’m ready for my next chapter.

 

 

Moving Toward a Healthier Me

I’m a little riled up and I need to get something off my chest…

I’ve spent a lot of time focused on self-improvement and personal growth over the past five years. I’ve made no secrets about this. My own physical fitness has been a significant part of this journey, and I’ve tried a number of different approaches.

I’ve been quite open about my love affair with movement. I’ve done outdoor bootcamps, running, group fitness classes, yoga, and a whole bunch of different home workout programs.

And I’ve even hinted at how I increased my physical activity while severely restricting calories in an attempt to lose weight, inches, pant sizes, and the shame I felt around certain parts of my body being bigger than they “should be.”

But what I’ve never really talked about openly before is how I’ve done a lot of different things with the goal of making my body into something it’s not, and may never be. How I’ve tried with all my might to take up less physical space in the world, with all of my efforts stemming from a deep-seated desire to correct my perceived flaws and imperfections.

Despite successfully losing nearly 20 pounds and close to as many inches in one particularly rigorous cycle of diet and exercise a few years back, buying into the vanity side of the health and fitness industry has left me hollow and jaded. I think I may have actually lost a piece of my soul as some of my fat melted away, but then it just came back again, with a vengeance (the fat that is, not my soul). The worst part is, at the end of it all I still feel as though I don’t measure up to society’s expectations, or my own.

I’ve been on this tireless quest to reshape my body into something that more closely resembles the ideal woman, with toned arms, flat stomach, firm legs, and of course, a thigh gap. But after trying and trying and trying, reaching and striving, grasping and clawing my way through the thick of my own dissatisfaction with myself, I just have to say I’m tired. Like, exhausted.

At the risk of provoking some and offending others, I’m just gonna go ahead and say what’s on my mind: dieting and exercising for weight loss and vanity alone is shallow and short sighted. That’s the simple truth. And I’m pretty sure those who go at it from this angle will find themselves in the same position of repeatedly regaining the weight they lose, just as I have. Because as long as we’re not addressing the underlying issues— the reasons why we eat crap, or don’t eat enough, and don’t move our bodies enough—we’re only masking the problem with a temporary band-aid.

The diet and weight loss industry is built on the fear and desperation of the people it serves; it preys on our vulnerabilities. The industry knows we’re all looking for a quick fix, and that’s why it packages up the promise of a better life for us in a shiny, irresistible package. The industry knows we’ll come back time and time again for more after the initial promise stops working. The industry knows there’s no such thing as a magic pill, but will sell one to us anyway. The long and the short is that anything that’s promising you extraordinary results in a short period of time is too good to be true. Period.

These are the lies we believe when we’re afraid we’re not enough as we are. This is the garbage we buy into when we don’t love ourselves, because we are motivated by our fears.

In my attempt to see this situation from all possible perspectives, I’ve run the full gamut of emotions—from frustration to anger and despair to resignation. And I suppose you could say I’ve reached a metaphorical crossroads in deciding that it’s time for something to change. The world around me isn’t going to budge, so I guess it’s up to me.

The only thing that makes sense to me at this point is the realization that taking care of myself needs to come from a place of love, rather than being instigated by my feelings of insecurity, my hatred of my thighs, and the fear of not being good enough.

Let’s face it, exercise is not punishment for what I look like, or what I may have eaten last night. And it most definitely is not something I should engage in from the standpoint of being disgusted by what I see when I look in the mirror. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been guilty of this attitude in the past, but I’m really starting to see not only how damaging this is to my mental health, but also how counter-productive it is to continue down this road.

The ability to move my body is a privilege not everyone has in this life, and is something  not to be taken for granted. I want to move my body in ways that feel good to me. I want to take the best possible care of myself. I want to feed myself healthy, nutrition-dense foods, because my body—my physical container during my time here on earth—needs the highest quality fuel to function optimally.

So, if I know what’s good for me (and I’m starting to think I do), I can see how approaching nutrition and exercise as self-care, coming from a place of love instead of fear, could make all the difference. Instead of exercising because I feel like I’m not enough the way I am and feeling desperate to change what I don’t like about my body, I need to change my mindset, instead.

It’s a strange place to be in, and one that I’m not sure I entirely understand yet, but my goal is to cultivate the energy of loving myself as I am right now while being open to improving my health and wellbeing at the same time.

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The words of affirmation that will guide me (please feel free to borrow any of these if they feel right to you) are:
I am active because I love myself.
My body deserves to be treated well.
I feel good when I move my body.
I nourish my body by eating whole, healthy foods.

As I’ve already suggested, the reasons for leading a healthy, active lifestyle run way deeper and are far more meaningful than vanity alone. And according to one article I found online, thinking of exercise as beneficial for reasons other than weight loss helps people stick to exercising more regularly—about three more hours per week than people whose primary focus was solely on weight loss.

With this in mind, I’ve come up with the following list of reasons to exercise that have absolutely nothing to do with weight.

  1. Breaking a sweat is super healthy, as it allows the body to release excess sodium, keeps blood pressure in check, and rids the body of some environmental toxins. Just remember to rehydrate with plenty of water during and after a good sweat session.
  2. Increasing your heart rate with exercise strengthens the muscles of the heart, as well as reduces the risk of heart disease. With heart diseases and other related conditions on the rise, this is a very compelling reason to look after the health of your ticker.
  3. Any weight-bearing exercise, such as running, dancing, or resistance training, will help with bone density, thereby reducing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis that increase with age.
  4. It has been scientifically proven that those who exercise regularly actually live longer. Just 150 minutes of exercise per week (that’s just five, 30-minute sessions) can add up to seven years to your life.
  5. If you’re feeling fatigued or lacking energy, consider that exercise can leave you feeling like you have more energy thanks to the effect of endorphins—the feel-good vibes and rush you get after exercise, also known as “runner’s high”.
  6. Stressed out? Working out helps manage and release stress by battling cortisol, the stress hormone.
  7. Feeling blue? Exercise is a natural antidepressant and mood lifter, improving overall mental health and helping stave off symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  8. Aerobic exercise can reduce both the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS, alleviating mood swings, depression, fatigue, cramps, and even balancing out hormone levels.
  9. Regular exercise promotes improved restful sleep, lowers incidence of insomnia, and promotes higher quality of sleep.
  10. The habit-forming power of a consistent exercise routine is transferable. Some notable improvements you may notice as a result of engaging in regular exercise include increased ability to focus on tasks, boosting creativity, and fostering greater productivity in many areas of your life.

It seems to me these are the real and meaningful reasons to treat yourself well with regular exercise. It all comes down to putting yourself first. Loving yourself and being good to your body are the only “why” you need.

So for the love of all that is good and holy, can we just give the diet and fitness industry (and all the superficiality and lies that go along with it) a great big collective middle finger? Can we all agree it’s time to break up with the idea of being defined by our weight, measurements, and dress size? And wouldn’t it be nice to just go for a walk or ride a bike or do some other type of movement that feels good to us, and maybe eat a few extra veggies somewhere along the way today? How awesome would that be?

I’m kind of done with hating myself. I know it may seem quite radical, but I’m going to try loving myself from now on and see where that takes me.

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What if, right?

As always, if you have any thoughts to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

Survival Tips for the Highly Sensitive Person

I’m just going to come right out and say it…
I think February needs to be the new January.

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As you may have guessed, January 2017 was less than stellar in my books. I started off with some fantastic intentions (I do not make New Year’s resolutions), but the universe clearly had other plans of taking me down another path.

And I’m just going to be really honest here: I felt profound sadness. It was hard, and I did not do most of the things I said I was going to do. And then I got frustrated and angry with myself, and my sadness responded by doubling itself. And then some other stuff happened within my personal circle, and in reply my sadness tripled. And then more craziness ensued in the world, and my sadness multiplied exponentially. I felt as though I had the weight of the world sitting on my chest, crushing my tender heart and making it difficult to breathe.

I was left with no other choice than to acknowledge the feeling. I had to speak the words aloud, “I am sad. I am sad and I don’t even know why.” And then I had to feel it. But a miraculous thing happened. I felt the sadness, and then I also felt it dissipate.

There is no question in my mind that we’re living in a precarious, chaotic, and seemingly irrational time. The craziness of our world is a lot to process, never mind trying to achieve anything beyond the act of getting yourself out of bed in the morning. Needless to say, I think we should be awarding medals to everyone who made it through January. Like, seriously. If you’re reading this and you survived, I salute you. (Bonus points if your sanity is still intact.) Virtual high fives and big squishy hugs, all around!

The way I see it, a new month is the perfect antidote for the confusion, hurt, and disappointment that seemed to dominate my introduction to 2017. That’s why I’m taking a personal Mulligan. A do-over. I’m pressing the reset button, wiping the slate clean and starting anew, with a fresh perspective, renewed enthusiasm, pure energy, and a positive attitude.

But I’m also able to look back at the past month with a sense of appreciation—for teaching me, although painfully at times, some valuable and much-needed lessons. In retrospect, I can see how all the crappy stuff that happened was the universe’s way of getting all up in my face and creating the prime conditions for me to recognize my own self-destructive patterns. And, if I’m not mistaken, I’m pretty sure I heard the universe call me out.

A small, yet incredibly powerful voice from somewhere deep inside me began to ask: “How serious are you, really? How bad do you really want this stuff? When life gets hard, are you going to curl up into a ball, or do you want it bad enough to actually fight for it? What are you going to do now? How will you respond?”

January, in all its cruelty and harsh insensitivity, was a severe blow to my tender heart. In the past I may have been inclined to just crawl back into my bed, pull the covers up, snuggle in tight, and hide for a while. But after reflecting on both my experiences and reactions, and taking into consideration what has been working for me and what absolutely hasn’t, I’m pleased to say I’ve learned a thing or two—or maybe even eight.

And because sharing is caring, I’ve decided to post these lessons here, particularly for those of us who lean toward the more sensitive end of the spectrum, as my essential tips for surviving in this crazy world when nothing seems to make sense and the world seems to be slipping off its axis:

Begin with awareness

As with just about everything else in the known universe, surviving (and thriving) as a sensitive person in this world begins with awareness. What I’m really talking about here is self-awareness and having a clear understanding of your own strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. When you work on developing your own self-awareness, it allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude, and your response to them in the moment. Self-awareness really is the first and most important step toward creating what you want and living as the master of your own life. When you take a step back and witness yourself as an objective observer, what do you notice? Whether you are interested in stopping a specific kind of emotional reaction, changing beliefs or behavior, quieting the critical voice in your head, or creating more love and happiness in your life, you must begin with awareness.

Make self-love and self-care the top priority

I’m sure I’ve talked about this at least a thousand times, but this message is so important it bears repeating. And I will continue to shout it, loud and proud, from the rooftops, over and over again, until everyone who needs this message gets to hear it. Self-love and self-care are not selfish; they are absolutely essential. Who is going to take care of you, if not for you? Do not expect anyone else to do it for you, because if you do you are giving away your power and making yourself a victim. Sorry, I know I am starting to get a bit preachy here, but it’s only because I believe so wholeheartedly in the necessity of taking good care of yourself and loving yourself above all else. You can only take care of others if you take care of yourself first. You can only love and have successful relationships with others if you love yourself first. You and your needs are important, and you need to ensure your thoughts and actions line up with that reality. Do something nice for yourself everyday, just because you are you and you deserve it.

Feel all feelings

This is a doozy for anyone who identifies as a highly sensitive person, because we have so many feelings and experience them with great intensity, but it applies to everyone, all the same. By their nature, emotions are meant to be felt and expressed. It is so essential that we allow the energy of our emotions to move through us, rather than stuffing them down inside, numbing out, or denying the experience. Stifling emotion can actually be very detrimental to your well being—both physically and emotionally. Granted, it takes work and practice to feel your feelings, and can be a little uncomfortable, particularly in the beginning, but learning to identify feelings and exploring into the messages they bring us is an invaluable survival skill. Simply start with the awareness of noticing and then allowing the feelings to naturally come up and out, without controlling them. Depending on the intensity of the emotion, sometimes physical expression is called for. This might mean finding a safe place to scream into a pillow, letting the tears flow, or even kicking and punching into the air (make sure you have a large enough space around you to do this so you won’t hurt yourself or break anything). Turn on your favourite music and dance as if no one is watching to allow the energy of your emotion to move through you. Journaling and talking with a trusted friend, family member or professional are also great options. Although the context was entirely different for Shrek, no truer words have been spoken and the sentiment is the same when it comes to emotion: they’re “better out than in”.

Be realistic about goals and intentions

Another honesty alert: this is a really big one for me. As a highly-driven and self-critical perfectionist, I have a pattern of biting off more than I can chew, which usually results in overwhelm and frustration because I just can’t do it all. In follow up to this, my next tendency is to get mean and chastise myself for all of the places I’ve fallen short. I am seriously living and learning this in real time, right now, and so I speak from the heart when I say it’s best to be honest, practical, and realistic with yourself when it comes to setting goals and intentions. Even better, remember to keep it simple: start with one small thing at a time and allow yourself to fully master it so you can use your accomplishment as a building block to further success. Remember to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals, and break down the big stuff into smaller chunks with detailed action plan steps. In this way, you will be better able to see your progress in terms of the baby steps you make along the way. Please trust me when I say this can be very encouraging, as every bit of progress made in the direction of your goals counts as a win. I’ve recently started making lists again, and it’s truly incredible for keeping me focused and on track. One last note on this topic: please be very kind and extra gentle with yourself, and remember you are aiming for progress, not perfection.

Limit exposure to negativity

The bottom line on this one is that you basically should not, under any circumstances, listen to the haters. I know this is hard, considering the prevalence of negativity, doom, and gloom that seems to be all around us at the moment. But again, when we begin with the awareness of where negativity is coming from in our lives—be it a specific person or people, or mainstream and social media, we are better equipped to take action to protect ourselves from it. Please do not underestimate the fact that all of the sensory impressions we take in have an impact on us, and there is definitely a danger in being overexposed. We can become anxious and angry as we gradually and unknowingly take on the negativity as our own. for this very reason, coupled with my sensitivity, I’ve personally made the conscious decision to steer clear of the mainstream media for some time, and have also found it helpful to limit the amount of time I spend on social media platforms recently as well. I encourage you to take note of how you feel after spending time around certain people. Ask yourself what your triggers are. Listen to what your heart says and take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your wellbeing.

Acknowledge the darkness and counter with the light

Yes, there is darkness in the world. Acknowledge and accept the reality. Know the truth of it. Even understand the necessity of it. Then find a piece of positivity to counter balance the darkness with a little bit of light. There are two ways I like to do this. This first is practicing gratitude, and before you go grumbling about how terrible everything in your life is, know you can always, always, always find something to be grateful for. Once you start looking for the good stuff by cultivating a gratitude practice, seeing it gets easier, and you’ll be re-wiring your brain in the process. Make practicing gratitude a daily habit, and watch what happens in your life as a result.

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The second tool for focusing on positivity is using mantras and affirmations. Repeating a personal mantra or affirmation is a way of feeding the subconscious with encouraging thoughts and messages. Come up with a set of personal mantras or affirmations that you can repeat to yourself many times a day, whether you’re encountering challenges or just want to set the tone for a positive experience throughout your day. You can also write your mantras/affirmations on sticky notes and place them in various places where you will see them throughout the day, such as a bathroom mirror, computer monitor, or on the dash of your car.

Always choose love over fear

Consider this scientifically proven fact: Fear is accompanied by a contraction of energy and vibrates at a relative resonance of 100, while love is an expansion of energy that vibrates at a relative resonance or speed of 500. Even if none of this makes any sense to you whatsoever, all you really need to know is that it’s always better for your actions to be underpinned and motivated by the energy of love, as opposed to that of fear. This is the simple science behind the reason why it’s always preferable to align yourself in support of something, instead of being against the opposite. This point, perhaps above all the others, is worth keeping at the top of our minds during these tumultuous times.

Allow time for rest

As humans, many of us have a crazy compulsion to stay in perpetual motion. We literally push ourselves to the point of exhaustion—and beyond, functioning on caffeine and fumes. We get antsy when someone asks us to sit still for a moment. There’s always just one (or maybe two or five) more items on our to-do list that have to be addressed, like, immediately. We view rest as something for the weak and meager, rather than an essential component of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. So, in case you haven’t picked up on what I’m putting down, I’m just going to spell it out for you: the importance of investing in rest cannot be overstated. Taking a five-minute break away from a hectic day to meditate and reset your nervous system can be extremely beneficial, translating in stress reduction and increased feelings of peace. All you need to do is set a timer for five minutes, close your eyes and become aware of your breath. Allow your thoughts to come and go, and just keep coming back to the breath, over and over. Give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose—except for maybe anger, depression, anxiety, insecurity, and fear. In fact, I bet you’ll start to notice a difference with a consistent practice of as little as five minutes per day.

Once again, I speak from personal experience when I say the dangers of not getting enough sleep  are very real. When I am operating on a sleep-deficit, which is pretty much anything under eight hours a night, I am more emotional, cognitively impaired, and less able to deal with life in general. I’ve noticed the same to be true for my children and other adults with whom I interact on a regular basis. Although my children (and many others who suffer from lack of sleep) are reluctant to admit, they are more acutely sensitive and less able to deal with routine challenges and setbacks when they are over tired. The good news is that when you take control of the reigns by strictly enforcing a set bedtime for yourself, you will slowly and gradually begin to feel better and be more productive. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my mood and motivation levels as a result of sticking to a regular sleep/wake schedule for the past five days, and I intend to continue to be fiercely protective of my bedtime because I don’t enjoy the consequences.

My apologies for the excessively long post, but I feel it was important to address all of the tools and strategies that are helping me along—and that I hope will help you, too. Do any of them resonate with you? Which ones? And is there anything you would add to the list? I’d love to hear from you.

One final note: As some of you may have read in my last blog post, the word I chose for myself in 2017 is metamorphosis. To be quite frank, one of the reasons I struggled as much as I did in January was because I chose this enormous theme for myself, and then I started to feel overwhelmed, and ultimately like I was writing cheques my ass couldn’t cash. I seriously began to question myself and feared the possibility that I would never fully become the metaphorical butterfly. But when I go back and reread the words I’ve just written—when I apply these concepts to my own life and couple it with the knowing that good things take time and anything worth achieving usually doesn’t come easily—I am more confident than ever that I definitely made the right choice.

So, I may not be ready to emerge as a butterfly…yet.
It’s just that I am still becoming.

All my love, always.
Andrea

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Living from love

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, the big “L” has been top of mind. It’s not that I’m one of those mush-gushy people who wholeheartedly buys in to the commercialism of the made-up-holiday, but I definitely have been focused on cultivating more of the ultimate feel-good feeling in my own life. However, I suspect that I may have a slightly different perspective than most of the other passengers on the V-day train. I’m seeking that precarious tipping point, looking to counteract the darkness and heaviness of fear with the light and airy, easy breezy, beautiful fullness of love.

As Marianne Williamson said, “a miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love.” When I first came upon these words, they hit me like a lightning bolt, sending a powerful electrical current through my then mundane existence. Quite simply, the profound simplicity and blatant truth of these words rocked my world. This is because they helped me to realize I was living from a place of fear.

John Lennon had more to say on the subject:
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfection. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” Just as John Lennon so aptly stated, I recognize that fear is the underlying current that caused me to pull back from life. In a constant state of contraction, I tiptoed around my fears and insecurities to merely “get through” my days. The problem, as I now understand it, is that living from fear amounts to not really living at all.

loveI’ve definitely been more focused on living from love since gaining this awareness, but I’d be lying if I said it has been easy. I still struggle to release the stranglehold fear has on me, and some of my limiting beliefs sometimes feel so deeply engrained they continue to rear their ugly heads far more often than I’d like. They pop up out of nowhere, sneering and snickering at me as if to say, “No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to catch us. Na-na-na boo-boo!” The most challenging thing for me is allowing the painful fear-based stuff to come up to the surface. With nowhere else to escape, I’ve had to face and feel, sometimes with crushing physical pain, as my heart bursts open to release the stories that have been buried deep inside.

And yet I know it all comes back to me. If I want love to be the dominant energy or force in my life, I need to be honest, aware, and present. I need to keep reminding myself that fear is a liar and it’s essential to love myself first. As Swami Sai Premananda once said: “Practice love until you remember that you are love.” No one else can do this for me—or you, for that matter. Practicing self-love, quite simply, is the most important thing we can, and must, do for ourselves.

My self-love practice has grown to include daily meditation, regular exercise, nutritious food, lots of sleep, writing, reading, being gentle with myself, relaxing my insanely high expectations of myself and others, and daily double doses of positive self-talk. It’s hard work and it takes practice, every day, but I believe I’m worth the effort. I am a work in progress.

Other ideas for attracting more love into your life and cultivating a life you love include:
• Practicing gratitude
• Making peace with the past
• Living with intention
• Spending time in nature
• Embracing fear
• Taking ownership of your own life
• Helping others

In closing, I’d like to share one last quote from Marianne Williamson:
“Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life.”

Thanks for reading, and until next time I extend to you all the love and gratitude in my sparkly heart.

P.S. If your heart is so inclined, please join @SoulChatYeg on Twitter for a discussion about love this Wednesday, February 11 at 8:00 p.m. MST. You can follow along with the questions and answers using #soulchatyeg

AND/OR

Feel free to drop me a line about your experience with fear and love, or let me know what your favorite self-love practices are.

One small step for mypharelady = one giant leap for my self-worth

If there’s one thing I know it’s that I can be a stubborn, slow learner. If there’s another thing I know it’s that slow and steady still gets you to the finish line.

After finishing my second half marathon I was adamant that I’d never complete a full marathon. In my mind, doing anything for a distance of 42 km and what would likely take me over five hours is the definition of insanity. No, thank you. Not for this girl. It’s really quite funny how, in certain moments like these, we feel we have all the answers. Everything is absolutely black and white. Yet, with a little time, some learning, and a lot of perspective, we can—and quite often do—change our minds.

Despite having completed a number of races, which by most people’s standards would qualify me as a runner, I’ve always struggled with the moniker. Similarly, despite making a living for close to 15 years by writing, not to mention running this blog and having a dream of writing and publishing a book of my own, calling myself a writer has always felt a little uncomfortable.

I can imagine anyone reading this right now is probably scratching their head and wondering what the hell long distance running and writing have to do with each other. The answer, at least in my case, is quite a lot. Both can take a toll on us: taxing our bodies, zapping our energy, and depleting us mentally. Both require tremendous focus, dedication, and most of all courage. Both require that the participant never give up hope of reaching their final destination—whether it be crossing the finish line or sharing their work with the world by publishing a book.

And I guess that’s precisely why I finally went ahead and purchased the domain name {mypharelady.com}. You see, when I originally created this blog about 2.5 years ago, I just couldn’t justify the expense for a personal blog that was little more than a hobby. Fast forward a few short years and I now see how that decision was less about the cost and more about subconsciously keeping myself small.

It has taken moldways_newdoorse some time to see the fault in my earlier perspective, and also that I still have a ways to go in the self-love and self-worth department. But I also realize staying where I am, in the nice warm fluffy walls of my comfort zone, won’t change anything either.

Is there any way to guarantee the small investment I’ve made in registering this domain will yield any kind of financial return? No. Is giving myself a gentle kick in the ass to get out of my comfort zone and taking a giant leap of faith just what I need? Hell ya and ‘nuff said.

While I must admit that running a full marathon still isn’t anywhere on my radar (I don’t feel the need to prove to myself that I can do it), I am determined to write and publish a book. Therefore, I intend to continue trudging forward, slowly and steadily down the long and winding road, until I reach the finish line.

I’d like to know…

Have you ever felt confined by your comfort zone and, if so, what did you do to shake things up?

And

In the face of self-doubt and other setbacks, how do you keep yourself focused on achieving your dreams and goals?

Wrapping up 37

As I count down the days leading up to my 38th birthday, I can say one thing emphatically—37 has been a pivotal year. About this time last year, I began a tumultuous trek toward a particular destination. Only after I set out on the path; however, did I learn that the place I was seeking was one I’d never reach if I kept going in the same direction.

I might even liken this past year to my very own mid-life crisis, except I didn’t have an affair or run out and buy a Porsche. Instead, like the good little introvert I am, I retreated inward. I read books. I contemplated my innermost feelings and the meaning of this crazy ride called life. Perhaps most importantly, I started to wake up from a bad dream, one in which I was a prisoner of my very own making.

Like the Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, begins:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

The result has been a year of unraveling, and taking down walls I put up long ago in the name of self-preservation. I’ve also been tearing down, piece by piece, the fence I built to keep my heart safe inside. First remembering, and then un-telling, the made-up stories about who I am and what my place is in this world, followed closely by the unbelieving of the lies about myself I was convinced were true.

But somewhere from deep within this sea of inner turmoil, something called gratitude bubbled up to the surface—the little voice that kept telling me to look beyond the sadness and hurt to see the beauty of the lesson the universe was providing. And, with a very subtle shift in my perspective, I honestly began to see things in a different way than I ever had before—what an amazing gift!

WayneDyer_quoteI acknowledge this year as an unconventional milestone  based on how it will leave an indellible mark on me.  With that I say thank you, 37, for the adventures in self-discovery, all the wonderful and painful life lessons, and creating space for me to:

  • Open to possibility;
  • Soften, even when the world does its best to harden me;
  • Find the courage to say no to fear and expand into love;
  • Grow into my role as a wife and mother, allowing and embracing all of what this means;
  • Dream new wild and crazy dreams;
  • Recognize when I put up walls of resistance, and being able to take a step back and think about why;
  • Rekindle my love affair with movement;
  • Learn about the amazing power of energy in everything, including me;
  • Remember the importance of taking deep breaths, as I stumble to find my inner peace;
  • Take off my blinders so I may see with fresh eyes;
  • Learn to love myself, cause I am pretty freakin’ awesome, after all;
  • Forge new friendships with other beautiful souls and kindred spirits;
  • Receive the opportunity to finish something I started over 20 years ago, this time with a little help from a friend;
  • Know I am not alone and there are many good people who believe in me; and
  • Remember just how beautiful my sparkly heart is.

So, as my 37th year on planet earth draws to a close, I am reclaiming my power and choosing to focus on the big, bold, and beautiful life that’s mine, all mine. This gratitude list will serve as my faithful companion, walking beside me and guiding me into the future. It’s a damn good foundation for me to build on, don’t you think? Watch out 38, cause here I come!

With all the love and gratitude in my sparkly heart,
Andrea